If you are watching the news and thinking we should keep out immigrants, please have a chat with your friends and neighbours. Most, if not all of them, are or were immigrants, or they have ancestors who were immigrants. Immigrants are us.
When I see crowds of people waving signs or chanting to build walls to keep people out of their countries, I wonder whom they imagine they are trying to exclude. They may not intend it, but they would be excluding people just like you and me.
Of all the labels ascribed to me and all the categories I could be placed in, “Immigrant” is the one now being derided. Of course, I am many other things, too. I am a retiree, a former college instructor, a grad school alumnus, a mother, an aunt, a sister, a mother-in-law, a writer, a naturalized Canadian citizen, a resident alien in America, a friend, a neighbour, a volunteer, and so on. The point is that “immigrant” is not something I normally think of when I describe myself. Other people sometimes ask where I’m from when they hear me speak, but they don’t usually count it against me that I have a foreign accent. And there is the rub; my accent is from England, and I am white.
This is where it occurs to me that perhaps the concern today isn’t really about immigrants. It’s about people of colour and/or people whose first language is not English. At this point, a lot of you are thinking “No. It’s about illegal immigrants!” as if it’s the legality of their admission that really bothers you. But if so, you could be deceiving yourself.
Lots of us arrived in our adoptive countries and simply outstayed our visas. Some of us came as students, some came on temporary work visas, and some came to marry legal immigrants or citizens. I’m not excusing this flouting of the rules, but until now not much attention has been paid to most of us. Recently, however, our legal status has come under greater scrutiny.
When I arrived in Canada, I came on a visitor’s visa and married my boyfriend who was a landed immigrant here. We didn’t really think about the legalities of my status much; we were just thinking about getting married. It was only when we went to apply for my immigrant visa that we realized we had a lot to learn. Today, I would be sent back to England to await a permanent visa, but at that time (1975) I was told that I could stay in Canada so long as I didn’t break the law or take a job. As a consequence, I spent nearly two years practising arts and crafts and learning to cook.
Subsequently, I went on to have all sorts of jobs, get two university degrees, develop an academic career, raise a family, and make various contributions to the communities in which I have lived. I am one of your immigrant neighbours who is an integral part of your neighbourhood, working, learning, and participating. We are hard-working and law-abiding—and some of us sneaked in under the wire.
When I hear the cries that “Immigrants are taking our jobs” I have to wonder if that is true of me. I may be guilty as charged, I don’t know. But when I hear that immigrants are drug dealers, gang members, and rapists, I am absolutely certain that is not true of me and very unlikely to be true of most other immigrants. Please don’t listen to this propaganda, folks; talk to your friends and neighbours instead. You probably like them already.